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Pa. otter trapping season could be on horizon

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Pennsylvania Game Commission
River otters have been a protected species since 1952, but a new Pennsylvania Game Commission plan expected to go out for public comment outlines opportunities for trappers to take a few.

Gathering information

The Game Commission's otter management plan calls for coordinating any trapping with monitoring efforts to better gauge how many otters are out there and what their age structure, reproductive rates and health might be, biologist Tom Hardisky said.

The commission has been trying to figure those things out already using road-killed animals and those caught incidentally in traps. A study being done in coordination with Penn State examines scats to identify how many individual animals live along particular waterways is also being done.

“But if you can get a harvest, you can get a lot of good data you can't get otherwise,” Hardisky said.

Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, 10:13 p.m.

Trappers might soon be able to harvest river otters in Pennsylvania for the first time in more than 60 years.

Pennsylvania Game Commission biologists will roll out their first otter management plan when the agency's board of commissioners meets in Delmont on Sept. 23-24. It's then expected to go out for public comment.

It doesn't necessarily outline a timetable for trapping season, but “the idea of harvesting otters is built into the plan,” said Matt Lovallo, game mammals section supervisor for the commission.

It is sure to generate debate.

When the commission opened a season on bobcats in 2000, after they'd been protected since 1970, an animal rights group, The Fund for Animals, filed a lawsuit to stop it. The commission prevailed and the season has gone on — and even expanded — with hunters and trappers taking about 1,000 bobcats each year.

River otters have been protected in Pennsylvania since 1952, though, and changing that will not sit well with everyone, Lovallo predicted.

“I'm sure that will be met with considerable controversy and legal challenges,” he said.

Otters once roamed across all of Pennsylvania. Water pollution resulting from things such as acid mine drainage drove them from many parts of the state, however.

Reintroduction efforts in places like the Allegheny and Youghiogheny rivers and Oil and Laurel Hill creeks began in 1982. They've been successful enough that otters can be found living along all of the state's main rivers, biologist Tom Hardisky said, with further expansion expected.

They're most numerous in Northeast Pennsylvania's Pocono region, the one stronghold from which they never disappeared. Any trapping season would likely begin on a limited basis there, perhaps as early as fall of 2015, and expand over time if populations could sustain it, he added.

Otter seasons are common in neighboring states. Ohio allows trappers to take up to three otters per year, while the limit in Maryland is as many as 10 in some regions. New York doesn't allow otter trapping statewide, but in the areas where it is legal, there is no bag limit. West Virginia held its first otter trapping season in 100 years last fall, with a limit of one.

Just two other states east of the Mississippi River besides Pennsylvania — Indiana and Rhode Island — prohibit their harvest.

All indications are otters are doing well enough that Pennsylvania can come off that list, Hardisky said.

“The plan basically says yes, an otter harvest is feasible. It's going to be up to the commissioners if they're going to go any further than that,” Hardisky said. “But it definitely is feasible.”

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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